Former Rock Island basketball coach Duncan Reid was sitting in a comfortable chair in his living room while I was interviewing him for a chapter in my first book, "Sweet Charlie, Dike, Cazzie, and Bobby Joe: High School Basketball In Illinois."
The conversation turned to one of Reid's biggest rivals, Quincy coach Sherrill Hanks, and he provided one of the most memorable quotes I have illicited from a source in 50 years of sports journalism.
"He built a great program," Reid said of Hanks, "and he wanted you to know it."
Later, when interviewing Hanks at his home in Quincy, I felt he was annoyed by Reid's remark. But I assured him it was my impression that it was made out of respect. The truth was Hanks had built a first-class program that was the envy of every high school coach in Illinois and he wasn't bashful about promoting it.
I thought folks who knew him might want to know how he's doing. Unfortunately, he is in failing health and living in a nursing home in Huntsville, Ala. His son Mike lives nearby. His daughter Krisna, who lives in California, visits as often as she can. Last month, two old friends from Quincy, Mark McGinnis and Jay Drescher, who live in Tennessee, paid a visit.
"He's frail but still sharp and hasn't lost his sense of humor despite his broken ole body," Krisna said.
I met Sherrill on several occasions. I visited his home in Quincy when I was doing a magazine article on former Quincy star Jim Wisman, who later married his daughter. And I played a small role in organizing a bid to have Sherrill succeed the fired Harv Schmidt as basketball coach at Illinois.
The original proposal called for Hanks and assistants Ron Ferguson, who had coached Thornridge's 1971 and 1972 state championship teams, and Herb Brown, who later coached Phillips to the 1975 state title, to form the staff. But Brown declined and Farragut's Wardell Vaughn, brother of former Illini star Govoner Vaughn, accepted.
They were never given the courtesy of an interview. Gene Bartow was hired, finished 8-18 in his only season and went to succeed John Wooden at UCLA. Lou Henson was hired to succeed Bartow and went on to become the winningest coach in Illinois history.
In the meantime, Hanks laid the foundation for the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, which was founded in 1971.
"Sherrill is the one who put the bug in Chuck Rolinski's ear on forming the IBCA and was the first president," Ron Ferguson said. "The coaches owe him a lot. The IBCA has been so important to Illinois high school basketball.
"While there are coaches who have won more games than Sherrill, I think he belongs in the top five ever to coach high school basketball in Illinois. I would have loved to have worked with him (at Illinois). He was so organized and knowledgeable. I think we could have succeeded in helping the U of I at that time."
Rolinski, the IBCA's executive director/treasurer, recalls how Hanks "took me under his wing. He had the idea (for the IBCA) and it put it in my ear...me, Sherrill, Ron Ferguson, Dawdy Hawkins and Bob Beals, the five of us got it off the ground."
"A lot of people didn't like Sherrill because he was so egotistical," Rolinski said. "But he was brilliant and sharp, a great basketball mind, an excellent coach, a great communicator. He was so dapper, a real gentleman, a lot of class."
Hanks might have had an ego. But he built a program that today has 3,200 season ticket holders. No other school in the state comes close. From 1961 to 1975, he won 80 percent (354-89) of his games. He never won a state championship, settling for two seconds and a third. But he had an unmistakable swagger. And so did his teams.
"I wasn't the smartest coach who ever lived," Hanks told me. "I prided myself that I could see all 10 players on the floor. I never carried a chalkboard. My philosophy? Let your players dictate the game. If a kid can shoot, let him shoot. Let the players play. I didn't hold them back from what they could do."
To send best wishes to Sherrill, contact his son Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Mike at (256) 270-6032.